Thursday, October 3, 2013

Visiting Our Colleagues at Magen David Adom in Israel

American Red Cross President & CEO Gail McGovern speaking at the launch of a First Aid smartphone app in Tel Aviv
By Josh Lockwood, Regional CEO, Greater New York Red Cross

Often, we become so immersed in our local activities as Red Crossers that we lose sight of the fact that we are part of an international movement to alleviate suffering in the face of tragedy and disaster. The Red Cross movement operates in more than 185 nations according to seven fundamental principles. 

At the end of September, I had the honor of making a short trip to Israel with American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern and other American Red Cross colleagues, to visit our colleagues at Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel's official emergency service and a member of the Red Cross Movement. The purpose of the trip was to share lessons learned in preparing for, and responding to, mass casualty events such as earthquakes and terrorist attacks. The two leadership groups—from the American Red Cross and from MDA—also discussed improving ways to recruit blood donors and working with government both before and during a disaster.

MDA and the American Red Cross have a longstanding history of cooperation. This meeting was a continuation of ongoing activities. These include a recent joint earthquake preparedness exercise between MDA and the Jordanian Red Crescent Society; a global Red Cross network coordination meeting in Tel Aviv in July; and a joint deployment of American Red Cross and MDA workers to Haiti to deliver lifesaving assistance following the January 2010 earthquake.

Another first: The Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC), a partnership between the American Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is building on the success of the Red Cross First Aid app by developing a first aid app with a universal approach, which will allow national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to translate and localize content. The GDPC will assist with releasing the app. 

During my time in Israel, I was humbled by the power and breadth of our shared Movement.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the Red Cross has seen a wave of Sandy survivors who have “paid it forward” by volunteering for the Red Cross after receiving services. These survivors include Lou Caridad in Staten Island, who drove an Emergency Response Vehicle through both Staten Island and Long Island after his home was damaged by Sandy, and Tom and Jeanne Gargiulo, along with their son Ryan, from Babylon, N.Y., who handed out Thanksgiving meals through the Red Cross after their home was destroyed. 

So it was with particular interest that I spoke with Nachman Lavi, a 30-year-old Israeli, while I was in Jerusalem. Nachman was injured in a bus station bombing in Jerusalem several years ago that sent shards of metal into this legs. Horrified by the dozens injured all around him, Nachman wanted to help those who were injured, but did not have the skills to do so. 

Forever changed by this event, Nachman began training and volunteering with MDA; he now serves as a volunteer responder with the mission’s ambulatory service in Jerusalem.  Nachman paraphrased the Talmud when he shared with us part of his motivation for helping others, “Well,” he said, “Isn’t it, ‘He who saves a life, saves the world’?”

It is difficult to imagine a more charged environment than Jerusalem in which to deliver Red Cross services. While our Red Cross principle of neutrality can seem benign, in a city that’s home to thousands of years of strife, providing life-saving assistance can be fraught with danger.

Yet MDA has adapted. By training its responders in cultural sensitivity and by engaging all members of its community in service delivery, the MDA is able to respond within minutes to an array of incidents: traffic accidents, heart attacks and occasionally, terrorist bombings.

MDA also leverages cutting-edge technology to instantaneously activate volunteers within close proximity to an incident. Every time the equivalent of a 9-1-1 call comes in, MDA notifies the five responders located nearest to the event. Further, Israel is at risk of a major earthquake, and hearing of the American Red Cross preparations for, and operations after, major disasters, has provided tremendous learning for both societies.

The Greater New York chapter was instrumental in pressing for the recognition of Magen David Adom within the Red Cross movement amidst a fraught political environment. In 2006, we sent a delegation to Tel Aviv to raise our voices to encourage the International Federation as well as our own American Red Cross to effect change. Ultimately, due in large part to the energies and influence of the American Red Cross, MDA was recognized and became a full-fledged member of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

In meeting our colleagues at MDA, we were privileged to make new friendships with a diverse and dynamic workforce.

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